Questions for Medieval Protestants

When I realized the traditional Federal Calvinist position could not be salvaged, I began to look for alternatives that would not take me to Rome or Mother Russia.  Rome could not work because I could not square my mind with all of the perceived contradictions in Roman history and papalism, as ably evidenced by Robert Letham.  (Ultimately, I would begin to move towards Orthodoxy–to start the journey.  Incidentally, the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s bishop told him to wait ten years before he left Lutheranism for Mother Russia).

Federal Calvinists will probably point out–and rightly so–that I came through the Reformed faith reading the fringe elements, and in that cauldron I was cooked. That’s true.  I live(d) in close vicinity to Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church and was able to buy all kinds of historical and theological literature from 30% to 70% off (which reminds me, I need to go there today and buy Bruce’s book on the canon for $10).  Not surprisingly, they also had all the Canon Press materials and Rushdoony books.  I read all of what they had.   The Gnostics at Puritanboard.com were rebuking me and urging me to read “Berkhof” and Calvin instead.   Well, I read through Berkhof’s systematic and through Calvin at least twice. 

One of the books I read was Wilson and Jones’ Angels in the Architecture.  I was stunned by the beauty of the writing.  It made me want to become a Norse warrior and sail the frozen seas (they had a chapter on Beowulf), a dream I still have.  The book advertised itself as “A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth.”  Of course, that’s sheer nonsense since it has nothing in common with “medievalism.” 

Notwithstanding, it set the agenda.  I asked the question, “If such medievalism is so beautiful, why must we hate it theologically?”  Indeed, the owner of the SocietasChristianas blog had me asking similar questions.  If Church History is really God’s story of saving his people, are we justified in positing a break from the Apostles/Nicea until the Reformation?

The Medieval Protestants–I do not really know how to define these guys, even I I was one back in the day–want to posit some form of Protestantism’s continuity between today and the early and medieval church.   To their credit, they actually try.  Most Federal Calvinists say that the Reformation was the recovery of Calvinism, but aside from that assertion, they don’t argue anything.  So, my questions:

How do Medieval Protestants maintain the continuity between today and the practices of the early and Medieval Church? 

As Schaff admits, the early church engaged in liturgical practices–that in many cases would become more explicit in the medieval Church–that are out of bounds with any form of Protestantism.   Therefore, what is your link of continuity?   If you say you are connected–presumably organically, if I may reference Nevin–to the early church, yet you reject practices they considered essential, how are you then connected?

Do you have any friends?

I am not being snarky with that question.   If you are honest, you will realize that your theological worldview–I know that term is useless now, but I can’t think of a better one; I’ll use weltanschang instead–is out of bounds with the leading Calvinism today.  If you think it is in bounds, spend a semester at RTS instead.   On the other hand, the above question already noticed your discrepancies with more historical and traditional forms of Chrisitanity.   So where are you?  Of course, not having any theological or ecclesiological friends isn’t a slam against whether your theology is right or worng, but if this is the fullness of the faith, and there are only a few of you, well…

What is the Apostolic Deposit?

St Jude says the faith was once delivered to all the saints.   This is the heart of the post.   We all agree that the apostolic deposit cannot be lost.  That is where you are strongest, actually (ironically, that part of your blog also got me facing Orthodoxy).   This means that doctrines and practices from the early church should be visible today.   That’s easy to prove, regardless of whether one is Reformed, Orthodox, or Catholic.   Fair enough.  It also means the practices should be visible throughout church history.    Therefore, we should see from A.D. 100 to 1517:

  • A specifically Protestant canon.
  • A rejection of venerating Mary and the Saints.
  • Church rulership by elders defined in such a way to preclude apostolic succession and bishops.
  • Sola fide

Those are just a few.  If we don’t see those, then how do we say that these Protestant distinctives are part of the apostolic deposit?

 

 

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The “theogneustos” argument against sola scriptura

James White’s most popular argument against (mainly) Catholic arguments for tradition (and positively:  Protestant arguments for sola scriptura) is that 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says that “the scriptures” are “God-breathed” (theogneustos).  It does not say that tradition is “god-breathed;” ergo, Scripture is superior to Tradition.

Several problems with this argument:

  1. It is a rather bald example of the argument from silence fallacy.
  2. If the argument stands, it proves too much and refutes the Protestant case.   “Theogneustos” only qualifies the Scriptures that Timothy knew from childhood, which is the Old Testament scriptures. Therefore, if the argument stands the Protestant must abandon the New Testament canon as uninspired.    If the Protestant says that the NT is also “theogneustos,” he is assuming what he is trying to prove.
  3. Interestingly, this is another example  of oppositions in Western culture:  Scripture against Tradition (the NIV translation is probably the best and most crass example).

Celtic Monasticism: Healing of the Nous

With some qualifications, I highly recommend Celtic Spirituality (yes, some of the editorials are tinged with feminism and gnosticism).    The book, if read cautiously, is a gold-mine of Western Orthodox material.   There is a very interesting section on monastic rules.  Many Protestants are bothered by monastic rules–and I was certainly the case for a while.   Given the presuppositions of sola scriptura, the reality of some Roman Catholic abuses 500 years ago, and the fact that many of the rules seem so…arbitrary, monasticism is usually a hard sale to Protestants.

And some of the rules probably are “arbitrary,” but I am seeing something else at play.   While I can’t speak for Orthodox monasticism elsewhere in the world, and I certainly doubt this collection of texts is exhaustive, the surprising thing is that the rules are quite lax.   More importantly, the rules are given with an eye for “healing” and restoration.  I remember in my Southern Baptist days–and I am sure this is quite true of human nature and psychology in general–whenever I would sin I would feel guilty/let down/betraying myself…etc (and this is probably true of anybody).   I would confess this to my brothers in the youth group (who were likely struggling with many of the same things) and they would say, quite rightly, “Jesus loves you and forgives you.”

I suspect the monks knew that, too.   I also suspect they devised these rules to prevent a lot of the lapses.  Just telling someone, “You’re forgiven.  Just don’t do it again” is true but it doesn’t help restore them (particularly in the more heinous situations).  Abstract repentance is often damaging.  Think about it.    Someone is truly hurting, broken, and quite likely an intellectual and emotional rest.   Telling that person “don’t worry about.   Be good and it’ll be okay” will likely throw him or her off the deep end.  On the other hand, when both parties (the confessor and the lapsed) acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be concretely addressed, providing a framework for restoration is the epitome of common sense.  So what if scripture alone doesn’t tell one what to do?  This is where sola scriptura mentality is damaging.   Scripture gives very little advice on concrete repentance (just think of the wide array of human potentialities for sin).   Scripture is a healthy guide but it is not the ultimate database from which all answers may be derived.

True, many of the rules seem…odd.   In fact, many of the sins seem odd (how does one willingly have a nocturnal emission?   On another front, how do people lose the Host?).

The problem with self-authenticating claims

I saw this from a Protetant facebooker,

The early church merely did what the rabbis before them did – *recognize* God’s Word in the Scriptures. This comes down to the nature of the Scriptures in the first place. If they are truly God’s Word then they are undoubtedly self-authenticating. When my wife speaks to me I know she is talking to me and I have no need to ask my next door neighbor if those are really her words or not.

Several problems with this statement (and self-authenticating claims in general).

  1. St Athanasius, Origen*, and others recognized numerous books of the “Apocrypha” as authoritative Scripture.    If Scripture is so self-authenticating, then how did someone like St Athanasios, who is infinitely times more sensitive to the truth of God’s word than the Reformers, get it so wrong?
  2. The most obvious question is “Self-authenticating to whom?”   On these grounds how can we deny the Mormon his claim to his Scriptures, or the Muslim his claim to his?   Given the structure of the argument, all that the Mormon has to say–and Mormons have told me this in street evangelism–“You just have to accept the obvious truth that Joseph Smith is a conduit of God’s revelation.”  Obviously, he isn’t, but if we are to accept lines that “self-authenticating is valid,” then we really can’t deny the Mormon his claim.
  3. If the church “recognizes” God’s word, we must ask, “Which church?”   The Church that Protestants claim “recognized” God’s word also prayed to the Theotokos, believed that we eat the flesh of Christ, which is the medicine of immortality (St Ignatios), maintained apostolic succession, and the like.
  4. And the most glaring problem, “Why should we give a damn what the Christ-hating and Christ-killing rabbis say the standards for Scriptures should be?  And while we are on that topic, which rabbis:  Palestinian or Diaspora?  Since they didn’t accept the same canon we should be skeptical of “self-authenticating claims.”

*I realize Origen is neither saint nor church father, but Origen did a lot of intensive work on various manuscripts and was intimately familiar with the debates over “what was scripture.”

Triadic Truth Claims Trump All

A position should be accepted or rejected based on whether it is true or not.  While some do apply that dictum in overly simplistic ways and one should be aware of importing other categories into the discussion, there seems something intuitive about accepting or rejecting a position based on whether it is true or false.   To put it negatively:  the human brain is probably not wired to knowingly believe as true what one knows to be false.

This is applicable when one evaluates various theological positions.  To reject a position based on “cultural” reasons is inadequate, for example, especially if its own truth claims have not been tested.  The following issues are what I—and others to whom I have consulted for advice—call “dealbreakers.”  They function similarly to “defeaters”[1] in philosophy. If I can show that one system of beliefs (B1) is incompatible with another system of beliefs (B2; the conclusions reached by the church concerning the Trinity and Christology), then either B1 or B2 has to go.

Monergism

The early church reasoned that nature has a will and thus an energy.  Therefore, since Christ has two natures, Christ also has two wills and two energies.    The heresy of monotheletism, though, said Christ only had one will.  Taking it a step further, a more specific heresy said Christ only had one energy.  This heresy is known as…mono-energism, or monergism.

Someone could respond, “But that’s not how monergism is being used today.   All that this monergism connotes is that God is sovereign in salvation—we, too, believe that Christ has two wills and two energies.[2]”  However, as Demetrios Bathrellos notes in The Byzantine Christ, some adherents of mono-energism also held to two energies in Christ; they simply subsume Christ’s human energy under the work of the divine energy.   Does this sound familiar?  Does this not sound like the claim that “God makes my will willing to will God”?  Isn’t this a form of “effectual calling”?  In any case, there is no true synergism, not only in our salvation, but in Christ himself.

The Son Becomes the Father…or Arian

Triadic reasoning says that whatever is common to the divine essence is applicable to all.   Whatever is particular to the person is particular to that person.   The three persons of the Trinity do not share the divine essence, but rather each person fully possesses the divine essence.

In light of the above, we should briefly return to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Against Eunomius.  Eunomius had, in a move similar to Arius, identified causality and generation, not with the hypostasis of the Father, but with the divine essence.   This had several consequences:  the Son was not of the same essence as the Father since the Son does not generate a Son.[3] Modern day Filioquists reject that conclusion but accept the same form of reasoning. In this sense with regard to the Filioque we see a “transfer of hypostatic properties.”  In other words, the ancients had spoken of the Father’s properties as generation, but with the Filioque both Son and Father have the same hypostatic properties.

The Bond of the Church is the…Pope?

If the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and if analogies between the eternal Trinity are valid in the temporal realm (which most defenders of the Filioque, both Protestant and Catholic, affirm), then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Spirit and grace proceed from the Pope.  Of course, Protestants reject the claim that the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, but instead of one pope one often sees many popes from whom the Holy Spirit, as well as binding decisions on the church, proceed.

You Can’t Use the Referee to Score Points for Your Team…

(Unless you umpire freshman baseball games in high school).  I’ve dealt with the epistemological problems with sola scriptura elsewhere.   The argument runs along these lines:  One cannot know the contents of Scripture simply by using Scripture—there is no scriptural argument for the Table of Contents page.   Secondly, you cannot interpret “Scripture by the clearer parts of Scripture” because you cannot know which parts are the clearer parts of Scripture except by an arbitrary appeal to a certain passage.

Saying the argument another way:  if you and another believer disagree about a biblical passage, who (or what) is the referee?  It will not do to appeal to the Bible, for that is the very issue under contention.  Some might say the court of appeal is the methods of historical-grammatical interpretation.   The problem with this method is that the Bible itself uses other methods of interpretation[4], and that this knowledge is not acquired by “scripture alone.”  It is, if you will, a “tradition of men.”  It is a prestigious tradition, but simply that.

Conclusion

Simply saying that such and such group is ethnic and phyletist may be true in your particular experience (though it is funny how the most crass forms of American evangelical phyletism are perfectly acceptable), but that charge is utterly irrelevant concerning the truth claims at stake.  Saying that the Reformers were thinking new thoughts biblically is commendable for them, but if their particular thoughts contradict with what the church has concluded about Triad and Christ (see the point on defeaters above), too bad for them.  It does not matter what they get right.   Heresies tend to have deconstruct themselves along the dialectic.

To be fair, there are still some problems for me—problems I cannot yet address, but at least I am trying to pursue them along epistemological and truth-claim lines.


[1] A defeater is a belief (B1) that is held to be incompatible with another belief (B2), or it can be any form of evidence to undercut a position, if not outright refuting it.

[2] On the other hand, though, many Reformed are not affirming that.   They only pick and choose which councils they accept.  For example, they like the Third Council, except where it venerates the Theotokos.

[3] Unfortunately, Eunomius’ trap had thus been set.  Later theologians would indeed reason that if the Son did not cause another person he was not fully God.

[4] In fact, using a strict historical-grammatical method would rule out much of Galatians 4.

Conversion of the Imagination: Paul’s Reading of Scripture (review)

Hays, Richard.  The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2005.

In this book Hays develops many of his thoughts from Echoes.  He addresses criticisms and expands upon previously vague thoughts and points.  This book is a collection of some of his more prominent essays.

Hays employs a key concept throughout his work: metalepsis.  Metalepsis is when one text alludes to another text and evokes resonances beyond those explicitly cited (2).[i] Hays then gives his criteria for employing and recognizing metalepsis, or “echoes.”   The text must have availability—it must have been extant to its original hearers and users (this is a fairly obvious point).  Volume is the second criterion—how loud is the echo?  This will vary from a faint allusion to an overt citation.  While this appears subjective, Hays gives several points on how to recognize loud echoes in Scripture.   Thirdly, is the echo recurring elsewhere in a writer’s corpus?

Hays’ first essay deals with eschatology in Corinth.  Hays asks whether the Corinthians should be seen as “performing Isaiah’s script.”  Through identification in Christ, the Corinthian Church (and by extension ourselves today) were to see Gentiles brought in (Isa. 49:23; 60:1-16).  Hays ties this in with Scripture by noting Scripture is a narrative in which the Corinthians sought identification.   They participated in Israel’s story (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13) and in doing so fulfilled Israel’s proper goal—to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

In his next essay, “How did Paul read Isaiah?”, Hays advances one of his more controversial claims: Paul’s reading of Isaiah is ecclesiocentric and not primarily Christocentric (26).  Paul did not primarily appeal to Isaiah to prove the deity of Christ (as many appeals to Isa. 53 assume).  Rather, his reading of Isaiah points to a final eschatological people of God in which the Gentiles are included[ii] (this is key to Hays’ next few arguments in other essays).

Hays hits gold in his next few essays dealing with “the righteousness of God.”  He builds upon Ernst Kasemann’s thesis that dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” though he rejects Kasemann’s apocalyptic overtones.  The heaviest use of the phrase dikaiosune theou occurs primarily in Romans 3.  Hays notes that Romans 3 is an extended discussion on Psalm 143.   God must be seen as faithful to the covenant despite human unfaithfulness.  When read in its entirety Psalm 143 is a psalm that anticipates a salvation effected by God’s own righteousness (e.g., his saving power).   In conclusion, Hays blunts any talk of construing “righteousness” as imputation, but sees it as salvation-creating power.

Hays then has an extended essay on Abraham and justification.  He says any discussion of Romans 4 must take the previous paragraphs into accounot (3:27-4:1).  Paul’s problem is not “how to find acceptance before a wrathful God,” but to work out the relation of Jew and Gentile in Christ (69).  This means God justifies the Gentiles in the same way as Jews.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LAW, THEN?

Reformed theologians are partly correct in that the Law condemns, but that’s not the Law’s primary focus, nor does it condemn in the way they think it does.  Hays points out the Law serves to identify the people of God.   Hays follows Dunn’s reading of ergon tou theou as marking the identity of the people of God.  If this reading is correct, Paul’s argument in Romans 3 comes into focus.   While it is true that Paul would forbid boasting in our meritorious works, why then does he make the point, if the Reformed gloss is correct, using such out of the way arguments against circumcision and other identity markers (e.g., “receiving the oracles”, etc)?

True, the Law does pronounce condemnation, but here Paul “spins” the way we normally see it.  Paul’s quotes several Psalms in Romans 3 to that point, but where the Psalms speak of condemning Israel’s enemies—Paul uses them to condemn Israel!  On the other hand, Paul is not offering a systematic doctrine of the Law.  Rather, he is destabilizing an entrenched Jewish mindset.

Hays’ final point on the law warrants reflection.  Hays ties his discussion of the Law in with his earlier point about dikaiosune theou to make his conclusion:  if the Law speaks of dikaiosune theou, as all say it does, and if dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” as Hays has capably argued, then Torah announces that God’s saving power is for all the nations (95ff)!  Paul’s reading of the law has undergone a fundamental hermeneutical shift:  1) Torah is now seen as a narrative of promise; and 2) The promise expressed in Torah is primarily for the Church now.

Hays final essays show Christ as the paradigmatic figure in the Old Testament.   Hays examines how Christ prays the Psalms and how believers can find their identification in him.  Of some interest is Hays’ essay on Habbakuk 2:4 and ho dikaios, the Righteous One.   Hays surveys Old Testament texts speaking of ho dikaios and possible NT parallels in the non-Pauline corpus.

Hays then notes Paul’s use of the phrase.  Paul used Hab. 2:4 in Romans 1.  Given its context, we see a revelation of God’s faithfulness before the nations and a coming eschatological judgment.  This language echoes most of Isaiah where it is promised that when God acts to intervene on behalf of “Israel,” he will bring salvation to all the nations (137).  Obviously, this reading is superior and clearer than the usual post-Reformation gloss on Romans 1.  Paul is not saying that an inward human disposition (e.g., faith) is the new way in which God’s faithfulness is revealed (which would have been odd, since the Jews had “faith” in God).  Rather, it is a response to theodicy:  in both cases how can God be faithful to the covenant in the face of human wickedness?

CONCLUSION

Hays successfully stays with his thesis throughout the book, though not all chapters are equally strong.  I think his last chapter on Paul’s use of Scripture is weak.  He started out by saying that Paul did not view Scripture as a “didactic database from which to draw prooftexts.”  There is a truth to this point, and Hays starts out well, but it seems halfway through his essay he realized that Paul did indeed appeal to the Old Testament didactically (cf. 1 Cor. 9).

Elsewhere, I wished Hays would have expanded some of his thoughts on the Law.  I agree with his and Dunn’s reading of “works of the law” as ethnic identity markers, but it would have strengthened his case considerably had he spent a few extra paragraphs arguing and developing that point, rather than consigning it to a footnote.


[i] While Hays’ model is satisfactory and explains the evidence nicely, it is still only a model and it is doubtful whether it will be acceptable to conservative Evangelical scholars.

[ii] I don’t think Hays is as controversial as either he or his critics maintain.  Let’s go with Hays’ reading at the moment—nothing changes.   Is not the church the “body of Christ?”  And in participating in the church do we not also participate in Christ?  Therefore, to affirm the Church is to affirm Christ.

 

On why academic protestantism has no miracles

I am not talking about conservative Protestantism that actually believes the Bible. I am talking about mainline churches and “academic” Protestantism. (On the other hand, I have watched a conservative Federal Vision guy debunk the miracle stories of the holy fathers along similar lines).

Of course, there are always exceptions, but the general rule is that Protestantism is a religion of the word, not the miracle. Granted, the charismatics have abused (ruined?) the notion of miracles. And with our scientific hermeneutics (which Protestantism accepts, albeit inconsistently), there is no place for miracles.

Of course, the Protestant will retort that miracles do not prove the legitimacy of a movement and are often used by demons to deceive the faithful. Very true. However, if that standard is applied across the board, we have to rule out Jesus and the apostles.

Am I saying that Protestantism disbelieves in the miraculous? No (well, mainline Protestantism doesn’t believe in miracles, but that’s another story). I am saying that their worldview often does not have a place for them.

This is revealed in their scholarship. This morning I finished the biography of St Martin, written by Sulpicius Severus, a fantastic read full of the supernatural. The Protestant scholar who edited that volume (volume 11 of Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene series), no doubt an erudite man, was clearly embarrassed by Severus’s credulity (Severus, it must be noted, was very intelligent and classically trained in the Latin language). Now, to the passages in question.

In chapter 24 Severus relates how the devil appeared to St Martin in order to trick him. Martin resists the Devil and the Devil vanishes, leaving the smell of sulfur in the cell. Severus writes,

This event, as I have just related, took place in the way which I have stated, and my information regarding it was derived from the lips of Martin himself; therefore let no one regard it as fabulous.

Several things to note: 1) Severus was a very intelligent man and well-versed in classical and ecclesiastical literature, so he is likely one not easily fooled; 2) St Martin, as the editor admits, was a very godly and pious man, quite remarkable in many ways; godly people do not simply “make up stuff like this.” 3) While not eye-witness evidence on Severus’ part, it’s origin is clearly not “pious legend.” What does the editor, who claims the name of Christ (and I believe him), say of this?

In spite of the combined testimony of Martin and Sulpitius here referred to, few will have any doubts as to the real character of the narrative.

While this is definitely not normal happenings, it is clearly not uncommon if miracle stories have some truth. A similar remark is made at the end of the biography. Severus recounts, in a rather lucid manner, the level-headedness of St Martin, along with his piety. This clearly establishes St Martin as a credible witness. Severus writes (chapter 27),

I am conscious to myself that I have been induced by belief in the facts, and by the love of Christ, to write these things; and that, in doing so, I have set forth what is well known, and recorded what is true; and, as I trust, that man will have a reward prepared by God, not who shall read these things, but who shall believe them.

Indeed. What does the learned editor say?

It seems extremely difficult (to recur to the point once more), after reading this account of St. Martin by Sulpitius, to form any certain conclusion regarding it. The writer so frequently and solemnly assures us of his good faith, and there is such a verisimilitude about the style, that it appears impossible to accept the theory of willful deception on the part of the writer. And then, he was so intimately acquainted with the subject of his narrative, that he could hardly have accepted fictions for facts, or failed in his estimate of the friend he so much admired and loved. Altogether, thisLife of St. Martin seems to bring before us one of the puzzles of history. The saint himself must evidently have been a very extraordinary man, to impress one of the talents and learning of Sulpitius so remarkably as he did; but it is extremely hard to say how far the miraculous narratives, which enter so largely into the account before us, were due to pure invention, or unconscious hallucination. Milner remarks (Church History, II. 193), “I should be ashamed, as well as think the labor ill spent, to recite the stories at length which Sulpitius gives us.” See, on the other side, Cardinal Newman’s Essays on Miracles, p. 127, 209, &c.

Of course it seems difficult if you are stuck in Enlightenment Anglo-American hermeneutics. But if we apply this reasoning consistenly, will you be fair and disregard the miracle stories in the Bible? This is where Cardinal Henri de Lubac can help us out. How do we understand the interaction of the miraculous in history? De Lubac writes,

The supernatural is not a higher, more beautiful, or more fruitful nature…it is the irruption of a wholly different principle. The sudden opening of a kind of fourth dimension, without proportion of any kind to all the progress provided in the natural dimension (466).The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

For Medieval man, the cosmos was porous and the heavenly and created worlds interpenetrate one another. For Enlightenment modern, the cosmos and heaven are walled-off. They are not connected. Secularism rules the day. Miracles cannot happen because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they cannot happen. Why are they correct? Because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they are correct? (ad infinitum). Now, given the godly, consistent (and quite mentally respectable) life of St Martin and his awe-inspired reality over against Academic/Scientific Man, who is the more credible? I rest my case.